The tragic incident coincides with the decision by public and private universities decision in the kingdom to increase their tuition fees for the new academic year by a rate that hit around 100 percent in some universities, according to a statement issued by the National Campaign for Defending Students’ Rights, “Thabahtoona.” According to the statement, the increases were allowed to happen because of changes to the Universities Law, which it says has been amended to serve profits at the expense of the educational process. “When the educational process becomes based on financial and profit aspects first and foremost, we must expect reaching this stage,” it said.
As is the case in Egypt, Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education does not impose any control over the financial affairs of private universities, according to Fakher Daas, coordinator of the Thabahtoona campaign. He explained in a phone call that private universities can raise tuition and set additional fees as they wish without any supervision or control. Universities do not “need to submit a request or even inform the Ministry in the event of raising fees or imposing fines on students,” he said.
In emails to students, administrators at the public Al-Bayt University justified that institution’s recent increases in tuition fees, saying that the university needs for funds for updating and raising the efficiency of the educational process, and that the current fees do not cover the operational cost.
In a phone call, Mohammed al-Fiqi, a third-year computer science student at the private University of Petra, in Amman, said that the majority of students work and pay their fee installments from their own pocket. “The continuous increase in fees and the failure of universities to cooperate with students in facilitating installment payments hinders many students’ graduation,” he said. “A number of students left school for their inability to continue paying the exorbitant costs of fees.”
Increased Burdens in Palestine
Raising university fees in Palestine seems more complicated, as it comes with the continued Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, which deprives many students from joining the university. (See a related article, “Gaza’s University Students Drop Out at an Accelerating Rate Due to the Pandemic.”)
On the other hand, Palestine’s public and private universities suffer from constant financial crises, as the Palestinian National Authority often delays in paying public universities allocations and handing over the wages of their employees. Private universities also experience critical financial conditions due to students’ inability to pay fees and late installments.
Public universities’ fees amount to $700 a year, while private universities’ reach $4,000 in specialties like medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.
“Higher education in Palestine is very expensive, and it depends mainly on the fees students pay,” said Ahmed Othman, director of planning and quality at the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education. He explained that the economic crisis for universities began 20 years ago, and the coronavirus pandemic is further exacerbating the economic conditions for students and their families.
“The employee gets only 50 percent of his salary, and most of the students are children of employees and day laborers who largely depend on salaries, and they already have difficulties in paying the installments and fees,” he said.
Ayman Al-Yazouri, assistant under secretary for higher education affairs at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Gaza, agrees with Othman. “Some students’ families strive to provide the tuition for the first semester, but they are unable to continue paying these fees,” he said. “This drives students in subsequent semesters to drop out or postpone studying for a certain period.”
Salma Farraj is waiting for a scholarship to be able to attend university. Despite her excellent grades, she is unable to afford the cost of studying at the university. “I just have to wait,” she said. “I registered for the Faculty of Engineering to get the 50 percent scholarship, but it’s not my wish, I wished to study medicine.”
A breakthrough does not seem possible soon, especially in light of the talk of a second wave of Covid-19 during the coming winter.
“This year will be the worst for students’ ability to join the educational process,” said Ibrahim Al-Ghandour, the coordinator of the National Campaign to Demand Fees Reduction, a civil campaign to support the right of Palestinian students to complete their higher education in light of the difficult economic conditions the Palestinian community suffers from. “I think many will be forced, even if temporarily, to drop out. I hope that won’t last long.”
Amr El-Tohamy reported from Cairo and Tarek Abd El-Galil reported from Assiut.